The Latvian Minister of Defence PhD Artis Pabriks on the Rīga Conference
Mrs. Līga Lakuča, Director of Military Information Department, Republic of Latvia Recruitment and Youth Guard Centre; Chief Editor of Military Magazine Tēvijas Sargs (Guard of Fatherland); President of the European Military Press Association (EMPA)
Translated by 1LT (res.) Kārlis Līdaks, Latvian National Armed Forces.
Technical Editor, Military Information Section, Military Information Department,
Republic of Latvia Recruitment and Youth Guard Centre; Public Relations Adviser to the President of the European Military Press Association (EMPA)
Photo - Valdis Kauliņš,
The Rīga Conference 2012.
Since the NATO summit in 2006, the Rīga Conference (www.rigaconference.lv) has developed into a leading foreign and security policy forum in Northern Europe for world renowned political, intellectual and business leaders to gather and debate the challenges of current international agenda.
- Afghanistan was one of the key topics at this year’s Rīga Conference. What are your expectations for the development of this issue after your recent visit to this country?
- I believe the progress in Afghanistan should be linked to our Latvian military units’ participation in the ISAF mission and to our changing role there. During the following year we will be able to verify whether our decision to leave Maymana in the Faryab Province for the Mazari Sharif was done at the right time. At this point no one could predict all the possible future safety risks in Maymana. I consider the change of station for our soldiers in Afghanistan well-timed; at the same time it could prove to be a good case study for Afghan government institutions. When discussing Afghanistan and its challenges in general, it is clear that we are not planning to create there, quoting the Italian Minister of Defence, “the Swiss model of democracy”. The key issue is to achieve a balance of power, stability and confidence in development. If we succeed with this in Faryab and other provinces that are being taken over by the Afghan Security Forces, we will be able to generate large-scale favourable results.
Afghanistan is considered a rather complicated topic in mass media as well as in the society because people cannot see a clear line of development: bad vs. good and black vs. white. Much depends on the ability to make a compromise; I don’t think that a perfect solution is possible in present Afghanistan. Of course, the society likes to have everything resolved quickly and perfectly. However, my recent trip [from 11 to 12 September 2012] to Afghanistan was good; it also contributed to the Latvian-Norwegian military cooperation and, hopefully would facilitate our future cooperation with Norwegians, Swedes and Finns in Mazari Sharif.
- In the Rīga Conference you spoke on enhanced cooperation with the Nordic countries. Could you elaborate on your vision of this cooperation?
- It is clear that the Northern European countries are our closest partners. No one denies that we need a closer cooperation with the Nordic countries and with other Baltic States. Still sometimes small trifles prevent us to find a common solution. We have to be very careful with how we organize and proceed with the Baltic and Nordic cooperation and one of such issues is military or semi-military cooperation. Military cooperation alone would be only partially successful without having the respective cooperation in politics and economics. We have been forced to halt some of the Baltic States’ military cooperation projects apparently due to a lack of political will to make a compromise and to reach an agreement. The issue should be seriously examined not only by our Ministry of Defence and the Latvian National Armed Forces but also by other sectors involved so that in our everyday life we could become integrated as a group of Nordic countries with our economy, transportation, environment and municipal cooperation.
The Norwegian Defence Minister Espen Barth Eide is well aware of our position, we share similar views; I think this is being also confirmed by the contract of donation of equipment for our armed forces signed in September. I believe that we will continue working with the Norwegians. In the context of cooperation between the Nordic countries we have to intensify our military cooperation with the Swedes, the Danes and the Finns. I consider that this issue will become very crucial in coming decades and we should follow the Finnish example of successful integration in Northern Europe after World War II. It is an important task with a number of dimensions. Above all, it would make us feel safer; secondly, we would also become more European since currently we are experiencing a struggle for an identity in our information space. In my opinion, closer integration with the Nordic countries would allow us to recover our European identity which has been lost during the Soviet occupation. Thirdly, speaking of a global society, it is clear that Europe has not yet found a way to restore its influence and our potential in the world continues to fall in terms of percentage. I personally think that an intra-regional cooperation, sharing and integration for the Nordic countries or the Northern European region have a very high potential which could also support the European growth and its role in the world. The whole Europe on the global scale would benefit from strengthening the cooperation among the Northern European countries.
- What would you consider the most challenging topics for next year's Rīga Conference?
- First of all, it would be the issue of the information space and security. Many people are not yet aware of problems related to information space security; they do not realize what information warfare means, how it is linked with cyber security and cyber attacks. We need to promote the public awareness of this issue; I believe that a part of next year’s Rīga Conference has to be dedicated to this. The second issue which was already highlighted in this year’s Rīga Conference is related to China's growing role in the world. A proposal to establish the NATO-China Council is very interesting and important; if we consider NATO being a global player, it is quite incomprehensible that countries like China or India are somewhat undervalued and we still do not have a sufficiently extensive cooperation. Thus it would be desirable to see China with a good representation of both experts and in political level during the Rīga Conference 2013.
- The Rīga Conference was attended by the Italian Minister of Defence
Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola, would you like to comment on that?
- It is important that government ministers from the Southern European countries are participating in the Rīga Conference because we do not want it to become a forum where mainly exchange of opinions within the region takes place. Considering our closeness of presidency with Italy at the Council of the European Union, it is very important that we try to understand both the specifics of Northern and Southern Europe. One of the important aspects emphasized also by the Italian Minister of Defence is the issue of cooperation between the NATO and the European Union. It will be very difficult to make progress in NATO's internal reforms if the challenging issues in the European Union and NATO’s relations are not resolved. But, as I said in the conference, if the European Union's identity crisis and financial issues will not be successfully addressed, it could have an extremely negative impact not only on the security situation in Europe but also on NATO's future development. We have to pay more attention to the ways of solving issues that are halting the NATO and the EU cooperation.